Published in The Coast Star on September 21, 2000
Worked on Diana Project at Camp Evans
Undoubtedly, many people still remember Dr. Walter McAfee, the, late South Belmar resident and astrophysicist, who had a building at Fort Monmouth dedicated to his memory. Now, thanks to fast-food giant McDonald’s, many more people across the country will be able to learn about Dr. McAfee and his remarkable accomplishments.
Dr. McAfee has been included in McDonald’s Little Known Black History Facts, a series of two 23-page booklets detailing some of the previously unheralded accomplishments of African American’s in fields ranging from medicine to sports to journalism to politics and everything in between.
The-booklets, published by McDonald`s in cooperation with Harvard University Professor and historian Henry Louis Gates and radio personality Tom Joyner, come as part of McDonald’s year-long celebration of African American heritage and culture. Professor
Gates researched and wrote both pamphlets.
“African Americans, have made immeasurable contributions to American society and to the world,” said R. J. Milano, Vice President of Marketing for US, McDonald’s. “This promotion is a catalyst to saluting African American history beyond the month of February.”
In the booklet, Dr. McAfee is recognized as “the African American mathematician and physicist who first calculated the speed of the moon”
According to his page in the McDonald’s booklet, Dr: McAfee was part of a United States Army program in the 1940s; known as Project Diana, which was conducted at Camp Evans in Wall Township..
The goal of Project Diana was to determine if a high frequency radio signal ,could penetrate the outer atmosphere of the earth.
It was decided that the best experiment to determine if radio waves could penetrate the atmosphere would be to send a radar signal to the moon and bounce it back to earth. However, the Project Diana scientists had a problem, it was impossible to hit the moon, a moving target, with a radio signal if they did not know how fast the moon travels in the course of its orbit around the earth. Dr. McAfee performed the calculations, and on Jan. 10, 1946, the experiment was successfully conducted.
Unfortunately, Dr. McAfee’s contributions to Project Diana were not mentioned in news reports about the experiment. In fact, his name was not even mentioned. However, “Americans could not have walked on the moon had it not been for Walter S. McAfee and his calculations.”
Viola McAfee, Dr. McAffee’s widow, still resides in South Belmar, as she has since she moved to the borough with her husband in 1942. Mrs. McAfee said that McDonald’s never contacted her about Little Known Black History Facts. In Fact, she said that the first time she even heard of the booklets was when she received a phone call from Fred Carl, a Wall Township historian who specializes in the history of Camp Evans.
Mr. Carl said that he became aware of the booklets when he saw a commercial while watching television with his wife. Although the commercial didn’t mention names, it did list a few of the achievements that are recognized within the booklet’ pages. When the announce mentioned the scientist who discovered the speed of the moon, “Project Diana rang a bell,” he said. “I went to a local McDonald’s and purchesed a booklet.”
Mrs. McAfee said that it was “very interesting” to learn of her husband’s inclusion in the booklet. “ I was very eager to get one of the booklets,” she said.
Mrs. McAfee, whose face still lights with pride when speaking of her husband, said that she was “surprised” when Mr. Carl told her about the McDonald’s booklets. “I called someone and got a ride to McDonald’s and picked one up.” Since then, Mrs. McAfee has made another trip to McDonald’s to pick up several more booklets.
Mrs. McAfee said that she has heard from friends and relatives across the country offering their congratulations on the booklet. “I got a call from a friend in Massachusetts, from my niece in Los Angeles, and my sister-in-law in Houston,” Mrs. McAfee said.
She said her two daughters, Diane Mercedes McAfee and Marsha Ann Bera-Morris, were thrilled as well to learn of the promotion heralding their father’s achievements.
Mr. Carl said that Dr. McAfee’s name has come up often as he has been conducting interviews about oral histories of Camp Evans. Mr. Carl said that people who know Dr. McAfee speak of him fondly. “I think that speaks to his character, as well as to his accomplishment, he said.
Dr. McAfee is now receiving the recognition as a trailblazer that eluded him during his work on Project Diana. Mr. Carl said that Dr. Frank Curcio, a-member of the Fort Monmouth Quality Office, refers to Dr. McAfee as “The Jackie Robinson of Space.”
In addition to his most recent recognition from McDonald’s, Dr. McAfee, who lost his battle with cancer on Feb. 18, 1995, received several other awards and honors, including an honorary doctorate in science from Monmouth University in 1968, and the Steven’s Award from the Steven’s Institute of Technology in 1985. In 1997, Fort Monmouth dedicated the McAfee Center to his memory.
page created September 29, 2000